“Assemblage theory . . . emphasizes fluidity, exchangeability, and multiple functionalities. Assemblages appear to be functioning as a whole, but are actually coherent bits of a system whose components can be ‘yanked’ out of one system, ‘plugged’ into another, and still work”
–“Assemblage Theory,” University of Texas
The pieces of the pie. The parts that are able to combine and make meaning, change, evolve, or exchange and create alternate meanings are assemblages. It is a series of things rather than just one thing.
This also defines media flow. A flow that is not a linear path, like a river, but is instead a series of things that are linked to one another, connected, and that interact (Reeves 316). The flow can move back and forth connecting one idea or bit of information to another. It is the parts rather than the sum, yet all the parts combine to create meaning of some sort.
Media flow is the main idea of Joshua Reeves’ “Temptation and Its Discontents: Digital Rhetoric, Flow, and the Possible.” Reeves explores the “flow” of digital compositions on the World Wide Web, examining how presentation of multimodal compositions impacts audience interaction with the composition and how the audience is both liberated and constrained by it.
Traditional rhetorical texts possess a linear flow that leads the audience down the author’s intended path. Through the rise of multimodal compositions online, texts now have images, videos, links, and advertisements. There is information everywhere leading the audience on divergent paths. This provides audiences with a sense of autonomy and choice, however Reeves’ thinks that choice is an illusion and that texts are still carefully crafted to provide an audience with specific information.
After reading Reeves’ article I began to look differently at websites. Specific things are linked and embedded to create a structured flow where the options of what you can follow are carefully selected for you. For example, on the University of Texas website, “Assemblage Theory” I cite above, the only linked words are “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Why are other words not linked, such as “Gilles Deleuze” or “Organismic Matter”? Are they any less important? What are the purposes of choosing which words to link and which to not link? What is being left out, either purposefully or coincidentally by choosing not to link specific words? While we feel like we have control as the audience (we get to chose whether we click or not), what have the composers purposefully done to control our experience and knowledge acquisition (by limiting what we can click)? What does this means for our interaction with text? How did the video before this paragraph alter your interaction with this text? How have my linking decisions affected your choice to click or not?
Teresa Rizzo in the article “Television Assemblages” uses the assemblage theory also in relation to media, but focuses on the evolution of television into a multiplatform model. She explains how television had been viewed as a single static entity, but it is really just a sum of parts. Those parts have changed and taken new forms into what is now a “network of connections” with the Internet and technology disrupting the television consumption algorithm (Rizzo). Those parts of the television system are the assemblages, the pieces that come together to form meaning of some sort.
Television is no longer dependent upon a large broadcast network, confined to a set schedule, or stuck in the living room. Shows and movies can now be watched anytime, anywhere, as mobility emerges. Interaction and participation are prevalent as audience members create their own content and comment on what they are watching. This generates all kinds of possibilities. What will be actualized is yet to be seen and depends upon the configuration of assemblages.
This stance on possibility, what could virtually happen and actually happens, is linked to linearity. Rizzo thinks that linearity does not exist within assemblages, rather a “linear cause and effect logic” is only in hindsight, once you already know what happened—“it only has determinacy when read retroactively; it could always have happened otherwise” (Rizzo). If assemblages are all about “an infinite number of possibilities” then it leaves no straightforward linear path (Rizzo). While I find this to be interesting, I wonder if anything can be truly linear then? Can the concept of linearity even exist? Has linear composition been a false idea in rhetoric all along?
Besides debating the concept of linearity, the articles are in conversation with each other about personalization and customization. This enables an audience member to interact with compositions and for a device to respond to the likes and dislikes of that particular person. While personalization seems great, I wonder what costs are associated with it. Personal data collection is everywhere. Rizzo speaks of children using devices to watch television, well what sort of information is being collected on our kids? Reeves thinks that “[v]irtually every move we make on the Web is being captured and analyzed by strategists who are designing ever more refined ways to govern our lives on and offline,” purposefully structuring our media flow to achieve their own goals (326). Based on the ads that pop up on my computer, I’d say he’s on to something.
Despite the wealth of information available in the world, both theorist worry that websites and applications will become so personalized that people will not continue to be exposed to new knowledge and differing opinions. Reeves calls is the “echo chamber,” where we only see and hear things that agree with us, stunting our growth and prohibiting ourselves from emerging into our potential. I believe we have the possibility to do this anyway; you can choose what to hear. As technology emerges so will knowledge and with it the continuance of rhetoric.
As media continues to change, reorganizing its assemblages and flowing through the channels of media, it will be interesting to see how rhetoric in these spaces emerges. Technology has changed the way we interact with compositions and will continue too, as more and more websites and applications are developed. We navigate our texts in ways that break with linear tradition and we watch our television on our phones. Where will it go from here . . . oh, the possibilities.
The class-distribution of another library’s collection by Mace Ojala, complements of Creative Commons and Flickr.
“Assemblage Theory.” Texas Theory. University of Texas, 2010. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.
Reeves, Joshua. “Temptation And Its Discontents: Digital Rhetoric, Flow, And The Possible.” Rhetoric Review 32.3 (2013): 314-330. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.
Rizzo, Teresa. “Television Assemblages.” The Fibreculture Journal 24 (2015): n. pag. The Fibreculture Journal. Open Humanities Press. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.